ATLANTIC CITY – The men’s basketball team has suffered through late-game scoreless streaks several times this season.
Those prolonged stretches often cost Temple a win.
This time, such a draught ended the Owls’ season.
The 11th-seeded Owls scored just four points during an eight-minute span late in the game Wednesday. This allowed sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s to erase a nine-point deficit and hand Temple a 66-62 loss at Boardwalk Hall in the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament’s opening round.
In knocking the Owls out of the conference tournament for the second consecutive season, the Hawks beat their cross-town rivals for the third time this year.
This game was a lot closer than the previous two.
“Coach [Fran Dunphy] said before the game that if we left it all out on the court, then we have nothing to hang our heads about,” senior Dion Dacons said. “In a way here, you can take pride about everybody individually doing everything that they could, but we just didn’t pull it out in the end.”
The Owls (12-18) led most of the game and kept pace with the Hawks’ interior. Temple fell just shy in rebounding margin, 33-30. Dacons led the team with nine boards.
Mark Tyndale chipped in from the perimeter, grabbing six rebounds. The junior guard also scored a game-high 22 points, dished out four assists and snagged three steals.
Freshman Ryan Brooks, playing a career-high 34 minutes, scored 15 points, including 10 in the game’s first 13 minutes.
“I found myself with a couple of open looks,” Brooks said. “I took them and started getting into a rhythm. Then, I felt like my teammates starting looking for me more down the stretch.”
As a team, the Owls limited the Hawks to 44 percent shooting.
“For the most part, I thought we guarded about as good as we could get,” said Dunphy, who concluded his first season with the Owls after 17 seasons at Penn. “But we’ve got to get better at it as the years go on.”
Still, all the positives weren’t enough to keep the Hawks from beating Temple for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings.
The Owls, who failed to make the NCAA Tournament the last six years, will likely miss out on the National Invitation Tournament. If so, that will end their string of 23 straight postseason appearances.
Dacons and fellow co-captain Dustin Salisbery ended their Temple careers. Salisbery’s final line read: 12 points, two reboards, three assists and one steal. He also committed five of the team’s 11 turnovers.
A four-year starter, Salisbery finished with 1,276 career points. That ranks 26th among Temple’s all-time scorers.
“I’m upset with the loss,” Salisbery said of his final collegiate game, “but I feel that all of our players and coaches did the best job they could do preparing. I think we gave it all we got.”
The Hawks (18-13) jumped to the early lead, holding a 7-4 margin at the 15:21 mark.
Fueled by sophomore guard Dionte Christmas and Brooks, the Owls took a 10-0 run. Both players scored five points as the Temple took a 14-7 advantage.
Following a defensive rebound, Christmas then hurled a pass across the court. The Hawks’ Garrett Williamson picked it off and eventually found forward Rob Ferguson open for a three-pointer.
Williamson then notched a layup on the Hawks’ next possession. Suddenly, the Hawks had closed the gap to 14-12 with 8:43 left in the first stanza.
Temple – never able to fully distance itself from St. Joe’s – went up by seven again, at 21-14, but the Hawks eventually tied the game, at 27-27, with 1:55 left before the break.
The Owls retook the lead on a layup by Dacons. Salisbery drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer from just inside mid-court to pad the Owls’ lead, at 32-28. The points were the guard’s first of the game.
The game remained tight in the opening minutes of the second half. Mark Tyndale’s three-pointer from the left wing broke a 32-32 tie and started an 18-9 Temple run.
Salisbery capped the stretch with a trey of his own, pumping his fist in celebration. With 11:39 remaining, the Owls owned a 50-41 lead, their largest of the night.
The game slowly unraveled for the Owls from that point.
An 8-2 St. Joe’s run made it a one possession game, but a layup by Tyndale gave the Owls a tad bit of breathing room, at 54-49.
The Owls went five minutes without scoring. Fortunately for Temple, the Hawks only managed one field goal during that span.
Tyndale finally broke the draught with a layup, giving the Owls a five-point lead, at 56-51. With 3:34 showing on the clock, the game was still in their control.
Then the wheels fell off.
Temple managed just two more points – both off of free throws – over the next 3:28. Tyndale again broke the Owls’ scoring slump with a layup. The clock showed six seconds remaining.
But the Hawks’ 63-60 lead was not safe.
A Tyndale foul allowed the Hawks to pad their cushion to 64-60, but Salisbery raced up the court and dunked the ball to cut the Owls’ deficit to 64-62 with three seconds left.
The Owls failed to pick off the Hawks’ inbounds pass, forcing Brooks to foul Darrin Govens. Govens then made both of his free throws, icing the game.
“We were leading the whole game,” Christmas said. “A lot of small mistakes caused us to lose the game today.”
The last time Temple lost three games to the same opponent in a season came during the 1995-96 campaign, when Massachusetts gave the Owls trouble. The Minutemen were ranked No. 1 in the country during the first two games between the A-10 foes, and No. 2 in their final matchup. … The Owls, who have won more A-10 tournament games than any other conference member, have only been eliminated from the tourney in their opening game three times. … Temple fell to 1-4 all-time at Boardwalk Hall, which is also the site of next season’s A-10 tournament. … Christmas got the seven points he needed to become the 10th player in Temple history to record at least 600 points in a season.
For more on the Owls and the A-10 tournament, visit www.temple-news.com and read Christopher A. Vito’s men’s basketball notebook, Despite loss, Christmas keeps head up.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.